Yeltsin's Cabinet steps down Congress warned not to halt reforms

April 14, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- The ministers who run Boris N. Yeltsin's government all submitted their resignations yesterday; then, when it seemed they still weren't being taken seriously, they stormed out of a session of the Russian Congress.

They contend that the restrictions placed by the Congress of People's Deputies on Mr. Yeltsin's economic reforms will lead to financial ruin and the loss of billions of dollars of Western aid.

By stopping reform, the Congress will bring down on Russia "hyperinflation, famine, social collisions and chaos," said Yegor Gaidar, the first deputy premier, who was among those who left.

He also implied that Russia's impending membership in the International Monetary Fund could be derailed if Mr. Yeltsin cannot win endorsement by the Congress.

But such warnings had little apparent impact on the hard-liners who succeeded Saturday in a move that would loosen Mr. Yeltsin's single-handed control of the government by July and water down his economic reforms.

Most saw the mass government resignation as a bluff. A few leaders of the Congress sought a compromise. But late in the day, Ruslan Khasbulatov, the speaker, with a patronizing smile, looked down at the Cabinet ministers sitting before him and said: "We will not tolerate this blackmail. We have nothing and no one to be afraid of."

Some of the deputies began calling: "Shame! Shame!"

"No, there's no shame," said the speaker. "These guys have just lost their heads."

The word he used for "guys" in Russian does not literally mean "children," but it has a somewhat undecorous connotation of youth.

At that, the ministers rose as one and walked out of the Grand Kremlin Palace hall.

Gennady Burbulis, Mr. Yeltsin's top deputy, said: "We will not allow anyone to insult the Russian government."

The Congress, which sits just twice a year, did not actually accomplish anything yesterday, other than to insult the Russian government and to decide to extend its session, by perhaps three more days.

But the day saw a decided escalation in the stakes here. Conservatives and Communists in the Congress are trying to stop Mr. Yeltsin's free-market reforms. Mr. Yeltsin's Cabinet, essentially, is daring them to do just that, and suffer the consequences.

Mr. Yeltsin was not at the Congress yesterday, and he announced that the resignations would not be considered until after the Congress had completed its session.

No one accused Mr. Gaidar and the others of actually wanting to leave office. Speaking of the Congress' decisions to slow down the pace of free-market reforms, Mr. Gaidar said: "We do not agree with these decisions, and it's impossible to fulfill these decisions."

That led Sergei Filatov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, to accuse Mr. Gaidar of "an attempt to openly pressure the deputies" by submitting his resignation.

Mr. Filatov worked to try to find a compromise both sides could live with, but he said the Cabinet ministers were not helping things by "dramatizing the situation."

But later he accused Speaker Khasbulatov of upsetting the balance of the Congress with his remarks, and said today's session would have to be devoted to regaining that balance.

The key figure yesterday seemed to be Mr. Khasbulatov. Throughout the Congress, and leading up to it as well, he has steered a sometimes twisty but always careful route among the various factions.

His critics accuse him of looking out mostly for chances to increase his own power, and yesterday he had clearly focused his scorn on the admittedly young Cabinet members in charge of running the government.

Yesterday a group led by Deputy Viktor Mironov began a movement seeking his ouster as speaker.

Mr. Burbulis, the Yeltsin aide, said Mr. Khasbulatov had made the Russian Congress a laughing-stock before the world.

The big question hanging over the Congress yesterday was the fate of $24 billion in aid promised by the United States and Germany two weeks ago, just before the Congress convened.

Mr. Yeltsin's supporters appeared to be betting yesterday that, before the Congress disperses on Saturday, the $24 billion promise will be enough to persuade the deputies to reconsider, and carry the day for the president.

The Bush administration certainly seemed to be hoping as much.

"We [are] obviously very concerned about the resignation of the Cabinet and the actions of the parliament," said Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman. "We are hoping for stability of the kind that would indicate this money will be put to good use in terms of furthering the democratic reforms."

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